Room with a view to healing
On the hospital's sixth floor, Austin's Playroom -- named for the son of Mario Lemieux -- allows children to play with ill siblings.
The hospital's sound-proofed music therapy room features a shiny baby grand piano, carpeting dotted with big musical notes and a dozen giant drums.
Share with others:
From a daycare center/play area for siblings to a movie and performance area visible to patients on four floors to a parents' business center equipped with computers, copiers and fax machines, the new Children's Hospital is designed to support both patients and families through what can be a terrifying, nerve-wracking experience.
"We can't change what has happened to the children before they come here," said Dr. Andrew Urbach, medical director of clinical excellence and service, "but what we can do is make the healing environment such that they get distracted, entertained and they have a little respite from what they have to face, making it easier to face whatever challenge it is that they have."
Parents need that same kind of intervention, said Beth Lewis, director of family services and resources, during a recent tour of the $625 million, 296-bed facility that opens Saturday.
"I also think one of the things this hospital has enabled us to do is to link arms with families and to walk down this road with them," Ms. Lewis said. "In Oakland, we really did not have the space or opportunity to provide the kind of support and ongoing education and even relaxation, stress-reducing areas that have been built into the design of this hospital.
Children who seek care at the hospital will depend heavily on their parents' ability to support them during their illnesses. Parents, too, are likely to be fearful and to endure periods of great adjustment while their children are being treated, Ms. Lewis said.
"One of the things this hospital does is consider what would the family need as the support system for the child whom we're dealing with or whom we're treating," she said.
As soon as visitors enter the lobby, family support shouts out its existence with a bright mosaic wall. Inside the doorway is the Lemieux Sibling Center, a play area for 3- to-12-year-old brothers and sisters of patients that is open under professional supervision (with volunteer help) from 9:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. weekdays and from 10 to 5 on weekends.
Built after Children's officials toured sibling areas of other pediatric hospitals, it allows parents to concentrate on their sick kids without worrying that their other children are bored or getting into trouble.
"It also provides an opportunity for some sibling-support kinds of activities," Ms. Lewis said. "Siblings go through a lot when one of their brothers or sisters go through a serious medical situation.
"So art therapeutic kinds of things allow them to express the feelings of all the focus being on the other child instead of them or of missing a parent because the parent is here and not at home with them or their own worry about what might happen," she added. "So there are lots of play types of activities that are the most appropriate way to lead a child through those feelings."
There will be toy medical equipment to take the fear out of the real items and a costume area where the kids might dress up as a doctor or a nurse. The center, which will be divided into age-specific sections, also will contain computers, a fish tank and TVs.
Siblings also are welcome to join their ill brother or sister in Austin's Playroom (named for the son of Pittsburgh Penguins co-owner and Hall of Fame center Mario Lemieux) on the sixth floor, another extended-hour play center or a dozen other play areas in the inpatient units.
Patients on the seventh, eighth and ninth floors can look through glass walls and listen through giant speakers to activities taking place in the four-story Eat'n Park Atrium, a huge open space on the sixth floor that looks out onto the city and the Howard Hanna Healing Garden. But before the eye can reach those amenities, it is grabbed by a giant blue and green floor labyrinth, an ancient, sacred symbol found in many religious traditions.
The East Liberty Presbyterian Church does a walking program with a labyrinth, and Ms. Lewis said the hospital hopes to offer a similar program periodically. In the meantime, she said, "[the labyrinth] really serves a couple of purposes. One is that it's such an interesting design. The second is that for kids, walking the maze can be sort of an endless activity."
It is for that reason, Dr. Urbach added, that the labyrinth comprises a green path on a blue background. "We purposely chose these colors to be land and sea. ... [The kids] might not even know that they're doing it, but I bet the kids will say 'Don't fall in the water.' "
The atrium, which will not be furnished until it's been in use for a while, is equipped with a giant screen that can be pulled down over the outer glass wall and viewed from all four floors. There will be plenty of live activities too.
"We can do entertainment kinds of things," Ms. Lewis said. "We have visitors from the Pirates and the Steelers, the Penguins. It's the perfect place to do it because the kids who can come, will, and those who can't [come to the room], can participate visually and hear what's going on."
The atrium is the showplace of what most hospitals call the Family Resource Center.
"What we've chosen to do is redefine what a family resource center should be. It's what we call the children's town square," Dr. Urbach said.
In addition to the atrium, it includes areas for the patient representative, supportive care and palliative care, a chapel, a family lounge, a classroom for long-term patients, the extended-hours playroom, and the healing garden.
The nondenominational chapel includes a line pointing east to Islam's Mecca and a curtain for separating the sexes when Orthodox Jews worship in it.
"All of those things have become our family resource center, which is 20,000 square feet, the largest of its kind in the country," he added.
"If you think of European towns, they almost always have a town square," Dr. Urbach said, "and it's the hub of activity. It's where people go to meet; it's where politicians will come to speak; it's where the band will be out playing. It is all of that action that happens, and it's really the heartbeat of an organization."
The center's solarium features a fireplace, comfortable couches and shelves of donated books and magazines.
Ms. Lewis said the fireplace "is intended to be a comfortable place where a parent can come, grab a book off the shelf, curl up like you're in your den or living room, get away from the hospital room, the hubbub of that and the busyness of the floors, and just get a little bit of respite."
Library staff and family resource specialists will help parents figure out what they need and then how to get it.
The business center is equipped with a computer, fax machine and copier. There is a consumer health library, a medical library for hospital staff and the Moulis Children's Library.
A sound-proofed music therapy room is furnished with a shiny baby grand piano, carpeting dotted with big musical notes and a dozen giant drums.
"We have a very good music therapist who not only does group kinds of things, but she works individually with children because music therapy has been used for pain management ... and also to reach children who may not be fully conscious, but they are still connected and it helps them maintain that connection," Ms. Lewis said.
"Everything on this [sixth] floor with the exclusion of the inpatient units is focused on families."
The saddest family need of all is met in private suite-type facilities in the intensive care and neonatal intensive care units. These "end-of-life" rooms enable entire families to be near their dying children.
"The family has a separate entrance and exit. They have a full bathroom and shower," Ms. Lewis said. "They can literally live through that period. ... That's what we thought was the best way to address it."
First Published April 26, 2009 12:00 am